The American Bobtail has a distinctive wild appearance. The breed is medium to large; males generally weigh 12 to 16 pounds while females weigh 7 to 11 pounds. However, type is more important than size in this breed. The American Bobtail is athletic, well-muscled, and has a powerful appearance. The body is moderately long and substantial with prominent shoulder blades. The head is a broad, modified wedge with a distinctive brow—the forehead is slightly rounded and the brow border is fleshy, creating and enhancing the top line of the eye. There’s an observable whisker break above a well-defined medium-length muzzle with fleshy whisker pads. The eyes are large and almond-shaped. The ears are medium in size; ear furnishings and lynx tipping are highly desired.
The tail is short, flexible, broad at the base, and expressive, and may be straight, slightly curved, slightly kinked, or have bumps along its length; no two tails are alike. The tail is strong and substantial to the touch, never fragile. Straighter tails exhibit a fat pad at the tail's end. The tail should not extend past a stretched hind hock in length, but must be long enough to be clearly visible above the back when alert. No particular length is preferred over another. Total lack of tail, full-length tail, or docked tail is disqualified.
The breed is accepted in both long and short hair lengths by all cat associations that recognize the breed. Shorthairs have medium-length double coats with a resilient, non-matting texture. Longhairs have slightly shaggy medium-long dense hair, with slightly longer hair on the neck ruff, britches, belly, and tail. All genetically possible colors and patterns are allowed, although preference is given to colors and patterns enhancing the wild look of the breed. Ghost patterns are desirable in lynx points. All eye colors are acceptable; there is no correlation between eye color and coat color. In TICA, domestic longhairs and shorthairs that are not members of recognized breeds are acceptable outcrosses to keep the gene pool diverse and healthy; according to CFA’s 2012 registration totals, the Bobtail ranked 38th out of the 42 championship breeds. In CFA, however, written approval from the American Bobtail Breed Council Secretary, the CFA Breeds and Standards Chairperson, and one CFA Allbreed judge is required for a single registration of a domestic shorthair or longhair cat with a natural bobbed tail. This applies to cats and kittens born between January 1, 2002, and January 1, 2020.
Although you can hear a number of stories about the breed’s origins, the best known is that the original Bobtail bloodline came from a mating between a short-tailed brown tabby male named Yodie and a seal point Siamese female. In the 1960s, Yodie was found hanging around an Arizona motel, supposedly dropped off by a child from a Native American reservation. Yodie’s parentage was unknown, but rumor had it that he was a product of a mating between a domestic cat and a bobcat, because he had a feral appearance and a short, bobcat-like tail. Vacationers John and Brenda Sanders adopted this unique Arizona souvenir and returned home with him to Clinton Country, Iowa.
Yodie successfully mated with the Sanders’ seal point Siamese (proving that he was fertile and therefore not half bobcat after all) and the litter contained some bobtailed kittens, indicating that the gene governing Yodie’s tail was dominant, since only one copy of the gene was needed for the trait to appear in offspring.
In the early 1970s, a standard for the new breed was written, calling for a pointed pattern cat with white mittens, a white facial blaze, blue eyes, and a short tail. The name American Bobtail was chosen. Breeders added domestic cats and breeds such as Ragdolls, Birmans, Himalayans, Siamese, and possibly Manx into the bloodlines.
However, the difficulty of producing cats resembling that standard—pointed pattern, white mittens, facial blaze, blue eyes, short tail—made breeders increasingly frustrated and some moved on to less challenging breeds. The original lines from Yodie and his descendants became inbred and unhealthy.
In the mid-1980s a group of U.S. breeders took on the task of refurbishing the breed to look like Yodie: a large, feral-looking tabby with a bobbed tail. Their goal was to create a breed that resembled the bobcat but was entirely domestic. Breeders gathered short-tailed feral and random-bred domestic cats from many areas of the United States to rebuild the breed. They used no Manx, Japanese Bobtails, or any other pedigreed breeds or non-domestic short-tailed cat species; such cats are specifically forbidden in the breed standards. Originally bred only in longhair, a shorthaired variety arose naturally from the random-bred cats used, and new standards were written for both hair lengths. The new breed with its feral look and healthier bloodlines has been much more successful and the breed has been accepted by five associations, including the three largest North American cat registries. The breed is still quite rare; according to CFA’s 2014 registration totals, the American Bobtail ranked 37th out of the 43 breeds CFA recognizes for championship.